Employer and Employee Duties
When it comes to providing a safe working environment, both employers and employees are responsible for ensuring full compliance of any specific rules and procedures which might be in place – not to mention associated legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which lays down certain legal requirements.
Under this Act, all employers are required to protect the ‘health, safety and welfare’ of all their employees, together with anyone else who might use their premises, such as visitors, temporary staff, agency workers and clients.
What’s more, the Act enables the Government to issue certain regulations, guidance and Approved Codes of Practice for employers and deal more specifically with certain issues such as how to work safely with computers, how to avoid stress and even how to deal with hazardous chemicals etc.
In this article, we take a closer look at how both the ‘employer’ and the ‘employee’ are expected to conduct themselves at work and what the consequences might be should they fail to do so.
What are an employer’s responsibilities?
As we’ve already seen, the law states that all employers must take responsibility for health and safety management and must do whatever is reasonably practicable in order to achieve this.
To properly assess how best to manage a given work area, employers should first undertake a thorough risk assessment of the various issues which might well cause concern, and these will naturally depend on the type of industry within which they operate. If, for example, an employer allows their staff to work from home then they should have a ‘lone working’ policy – or something similar to afford their staff adequate protection whilst working away from the usual office premises. If, on the other hand, staff are operating within a warehouse environment then there might reasonably be certain policies in place to cover heavy lifting, or the operation of certain equipment, such as forklift trucks or other motorised vehicles.
Once these risks have been fully identified, then employers must communicate their subsequent policies to all staff across the workforce and provide any associated training where necessary. Going forward, they must also undertake regular reviews of their workplace practices and where possible, encourage feedback from others in order to continually improve in terms of best practice and policy development.
What are an employee’s responsibilities?
Whilst many employees are under the impression that their employer is solely responsible for health and safety issues in the workplace this simply isn’t true. In fact, far from it. Employees also have their own legal responsibilities to ensure a safe and healthy workplace and these should be clearly communicated so as to fully understand what is expected, both within a given job role and even across the company as a whole.
Under current legislation, employees are given certain rights in order to protect their position in the workplace. These include (but certainly aren’t limited to) the following:
- To be provided with any personal protection equipment free of charge (for example, hard helmets, gloves, goggles and so on)
- To stop work and leave the work area, without being disciplined, in the event that there are any ‘reasonable’ concerns in respect of health and safety
- Not to be disciplined for contacting the Health and Safety Executive with any concerns that haven’t already been addressed by an employer, despite having been raised through the appropriate channels
- To have sufficient rest breaks throughout the working day
- To also have sufficient time off work during the working week
- To be paid annual leave
An employee will usually be made aware of a company’s health and safety procedures at the start of their employment and may well have certain responsibilities as part of their job role – for example, to wear a hairnet if handling food, not to wear jewellery or loose clothing if operating machinery or to notify an employer of any medication which might affect performance and/or might potentially compromise the safety of others.
In essence, then, each and every employee should take reasonable care of their own health and safety, together with that of others.
What happens if either an employer or employee fails to perform their duty?
Health and safety at work are taken very seriously, and failure to comply with basic legislation can result in very serious consequences.
For employers, any failure to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act can result in prosecution of both a responsible person (such as a director or manager) and the company as a whole. Recent case law has also confirmed that directors can be prosecuted under s.37 of the Act for failing to accept responsibility for any health and safety breaches – for example, by attempting to delegate their own responsibility to another person within the company. For more info on making a claim click here https://smithjonessolicitors.co.uk/accidents-at-work/
If found guilty under the Health and Safety at Work Act, Directors can be liable for both fines and even imprisonment – not to mention disqualification as a Director under s.2(1) of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.
In more serious breaches, which result in death, then proceedings will usually be brought under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 which is punishable by an unlimited fine.
For employees, of course, non-compliance with health and safety regulations tends to have much less serious consequences, although disciplinary action certainly isn’t uncommon and will very often necessitate either trade union and/or legal representation. Suffice it to say, any type of breach – no matter how small – should ideally be avoided at all cost.
When it comes to health and safety at work, then the various issues associated with it should never be underestimated.
Fortunately – for both employer and employee – there are numerous resources available to offer help and support, such as the Health and Safety Executive , NDirect  and various other Government organisations.
In terms of ensuring compliance, there can be little doubt that communication is key when it comes to providing employees with important updates and engaging them in regular training programmes such as basic first aid, how to operate certain machinery and how to best prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.
Suffice it to say, with just a little care – and genuine engagement from all involved – then there’s absolutely no reason why health and safety shouldn’t be embraced by all and in turn, limit (if not alleviate) avoidable accidents in the workplace.
 Health and Safety Executive: http://www.hse.gov.uk/